IDEA: 45 Years Later

Updated: Mar 29

Education 50 years ago was very different than education in 2021. At that time, students with disabilities had no educational protection in regards to their rights to education. Less than 50 years ago! Students had no IEPs, there were no inclusive practices, no parental rights, but there was the absolute & complete exclusion of *many* students with disabilities.


The topic of inclusive learning has been around since legislation was passed in November 1975. It was at that time that Congress passed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA). EHA (PL 94-142) was a revolutionary milestone in education because it was the first piece of legislation that provided rights, protection, and advocacy of students with disabilities in schools.


In 1990, EHA got some updates and a new name: IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) & in 2004, Congress reauthorized IDEA. The provisions guaranteed through IDEA have afforded appropriate access to education for all students ages 3-21, regardless of abilities.


Before reading on, I want to be clear that IDEA is big and complex. I'm writing at a very surface level, an entry-level to IDEA. My intent is not to simplify the content and context of it but rather to summarize some of the key highlights.


There are 6 key rights laid out in IDEA:

  1. Free & Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

  2. The rights to an appropriate evaluation

  3. Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)<--this is where the term inclusion was born

  5. Parent Participation

  6. Procedural Safeguards

Additionally, IDEA protects students who are adversely affected by a disability in the following 13 categories:

  1. Specific Learning Disability (SLD)<--accounts for about 1/3 of students with disabilities (source)

  2. Other Health Impairment (OHI)

  3. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

  4. Emotional Distrubance (ED)

  5. Speech or Language Impairment

  6. Visual Impairment (VI)

  7. Deafness

  8. Hearing Impairment

  9. Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

  10. Intellectual Disability (ID)<--Before 2010, this was referred to as Mental Retardation (MR)

  11. Deaf-Blindness

  12. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

  13. Multiple Disabilities

**Note: An educational identification of a disability may differ from a medical diagnosis of a disability. They are not always the same.


I'll break down each of the aforementioned 6 key components of IDEA individually with a critical eye in future posts, as well as a more in-depth look at the 13 categories. Still, for now, we're just looking at the premise of IDEA as a whole.


Here we are, 45 years after the initial adoption of what is now IDEA & still making forward progress towards the practical application of inclusion. In fact, "in 2016, more than 60% of all students with disabilities spent 80%+ of their school day in general education classrooms." (source). I would say that's significant growth in just 45 years!


Regardless of the great progress in inclusive practices from 1975-2021, there's still work to be done (*cough* full federal funding *cough*)


If you're an educator in a public school, no matter what you teach, you have the opportunity to have a huge influence on the education of all students but be cautioned. It won't be easy. You see, IDEA features rights & protections for students that are not optional, nor are pieces of IDEA something that can be cherry-picked to implement. Additionally, the rights afforded to learners with special needs IDEA do not care what your educational philosophy, beliefs, style, or practices are.


While you may not be special education certified, you likely have students with IEPs in your class for at least part of the day. Providing equitable education for students with special needs is long past the sole responsibility of the special education teacher. Educators have a responsibility to further the learning of all learners, regardless of their abilities. This is a collaborative effort among multiple teachers to ensure that needs are being met and that access to the curriculum is available. It's my sincerest hope that you, a reader who is in education, already have an intrinsic motivation to provide these rights to all of your learners.


If this idea makes you uncomfortable, that's ok. I'm glad you've continued reading to this point. I want to encourage you to settle into the discomfort for a little bit and reflect upon these questions:

  • When planning, do I provide differentiated means to access the content?

  • Is my classroom instruction designed for a specific population of students only?

  • Am I knowledgeable and fluent, not just aware, of what different accommodations might look like in my room?

  • What alignment is there between my core educational beliefs and inclusive learning?

  • What am I doing to further my knowledge of how to meet the needs of all learners, not just the average student?

There are no amount of workshops, professional developments, books, blogs, model classrooms, strategies, mentors, coaching cycles, consultants, etc. that will help educators create inclusive learning environments if there's not an adoption of the core belief behind inclusion: every student should be afforded opportunities to learn among each other and within the curriculum.


((If you're interested in reading the foundation of IDEA via PL94-142, I've linked a full copy below))


PL 94-142 (click here)





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